Real bodies: Life doctor

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Indy Lifestyle Online
I DON'T want to talk to you. You think it's all so easy, don't you, thinking up amusing little incidents? Well it's not. It's giving me a headache.

Do I sound strange? Apparently lack of sleep can make you grumpy and distracted but I never let my personal health problems interfere with my devotion to this column. It's just that in this steamy weather I can't damn well sleep! Every night in bed I am tossing and turning.

Hot weather turns otherwise sleep-like-a-baby types into sleep-like-people- with-a-baby-types. Perversely it is easier to sleep in the desert conditions of Texas, since everywhere has air-conditioning, than it is to sleep in a stuffy room in Britain during a hot spell that we didn't see coming.

The ideal temperature is 60F to 65F - any hotter and your quality of sleep starts to be affected.

And there is a reason for this, apart from the fact that it's too damn hot. Sleep scientists say that the natural drop in body temperature as our body clock's bedtime approaches is a physical and psychological trigger for our minds to feel ready for sleep.

According to a study by Dr Patricia Murphy and Dr Scott Campbell at the Laboratory of Human Chronobiology in Cornell Medical Centre, New York, if our body doesn't cool down, for example on a very hot night, the sleep trigger gets messed up. Their study showed that under laboratory conditions people went to sleep faster and slept more restfully if they followed their body's heating gauge and dropped off when the temperature did.

Dr Murphy recommends taking a hot bath about 90 minutes before bedtime. When you get out of a hot bath your body temperature drops rapidly and facilitates sleep. Note: cool baths or showers, however tempting, have the opposite effect.

In this hot weather, if you are having problems sleeping (and if you don't then you are an insensitive clod) try to prepare. Cool down your bedroom by closing curtains during the day, or leaving windows open, if safe. Try to get a maximum through-draft.

Experiment. If the bedroom gets the sun in the afternoon, shift camp temporarily to a morning sun room that will be cooler in the evenings. If you live in a house, sleep downstairs when it really swelters.

And don't despair. It can't be worse than my experience of the official most over-heated night of all time. (I'm applying for the Guinness Book of Records.) It was in downtown Chicago in the worst heat wave for 20 years. I was staying in a mad hostel without air-conditioning. It was a cheap place for penniless tourists and, bizarrely, mentally infirm Chicagoans with appalling hygiene. (I couldn't go in the shower for fear of throwing up.) Our box-like room at the top of the building was walled in on all sides by sweating lunatics. The one small window opened into the airless night directly above reeking industrial bins and a nearby nightclub which pumped out the smell of hot beer and thrashing music into the night. My feet were so hot they were pulsating. Lying on the bed felt like trying to curl up on a heated frying pan.

So, reader, I used my ingenuity. And can proudly patent the "Wet Towel Gambit". I wrapped my feet in wet towels, put another wet towel on top of the pillow and another round my body. It worked for a couple of hours. Then I would re-water. The water in the heat mixed in with my sweat and stained the sheets a revolting sticky yellow, but it was still less revolting than the rest of the joint.

Tips for hot weather insomnia:

1. Never lie in bed not being able to sleep for more than 30 minutes. Get up and cool down.

2. Don't panic. If you are very tired in the morning, at least you will sleep better tomorrow.